Friday, May 19, 2000

Transition: Jim Chalgren, 1951-2000

(Transitions article published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #130, May 19, 2000)

PHOTOS: (Jim Chalgren 3) Jim Chalgren at the Atons 1994 Halloween party. His costume represents the human-faced incarnation of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the underworld and judge of the dead.

(Jim Chalgren 2) Chalgren was known as the “Energizer Bunny” because he just kept going and going and going.

(Jim Chalgren 1) Chalgren reading the invocation at the recent Atons Officer Installation ceremony held at Bravo in Minneapolis.

James “Jim” Eric Chalgren, was born on July 15, 1951 in Mankato, MN. He passed away at age 48, surrounded by family and friends, on April 23 (Easter Sunday) at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis.

After attending Prescott College in Prescott, AZ for two years Chalgren was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Mankato State University, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. He became a counselor on the faculty of the Counseling Bureau at Mankato State while working on his Master’s Degree, and was also the director of the Mankato State University Alternative Lifestyles office. He began working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota when poor health forced him to stop.

He was one of Minnesota’s first well-known gay activists. In 1977 he started the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Center at Mankato State University (now called Minnesota State University, Mankato). In 1985 he was instrumental in the founding of The Aliveness Project, which has since become recognized as a model community-based services provider for those living with HIV.

In 1987 the killing of two gay men near Mankato inspired him to start advocating an equal-rights ordinance for Mankato which would have protected gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, education, housing and other areas. (The ordinance was ultimately voted down by the Mankato City Council.)

Over the years he was also involved in the Names Project (the AIDS quilt), gay pride parades in Minneapolis, and AIDS walks. As an artist, writer and poet he was a contributor to many gay publications including The GLC Voice, Gaze and Lavender. He also held the title of “Mr. Gay Minnesota, 1983.”

Chalgren was fascinated with Egyptian artifacts and history. He was a long-time member, both full and associate, of the Atons, a Minneapolis leather/levi club; on their web page ( his name is listed as “Jim Anubis Chalgren.” Chalgren held the position of Egyptologist for the club, whose name and insignia are derived from ancient Egyptian ruler Akhenaton. He was also an active member of The Cavern Dwellers.

The fact that Chalgren passed away on Easter Sunday, one of his favorite holidays, was significant in many ways. He was a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mankato and had been active in Integrity, an Episcopal organization for the GLBT community; he found value in Christian theology and the concepts of life, death and afterlife symbolized by the Christian Easter celebration.

But Chalgren also found valuable symbolism in other belief systems such as Buddhism and the beliefs of ancient Egypt. Rabbits were symbols of fertility to many ancient cultures, a belief that has become traditionalized today as the Easter Bunny. Chalgren, a long-time AIDS survivor who came back from the brink of death many times, became known in some circles as the “Energizer Bunny” because he just kept going and going and going. (On at least one Halloween and for at least one Pride parade he donned a bunny costume.)

Finally, April 23 was also the feast day for Chalgren’s patron saint, St. George (colloquially known as the “dragon slayer” and also the patron saint for people suffering from diseases spread through sexual contact). A reinterpretation of the legend of St. George and the Dragon provided the motif for the sermon at his memorial service, which was held in Mankato at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Thursday, April 27. Chalgren was remembered by a friend as a “Renaissance Man” who somehow found time and energy to involve himself in an amazing number of causes, and he was remembered by a niece as “the most spiritual man I ever met.” After the service Paul Rozendaal, former president of the Atons, summed up the feelings of many when he said “I will always be glad that I knew him.”

BDSM, Therapists, and Sanity

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #130, May 19, 2000)

Welcome to the leatherwomen and leathermen attending the Knights of Leather Tournament 12 Run. Play safe and have a great weekend!

I was recently invited to speak about leather and BDSM sex to a Twin Cities-based group of GLBT mental-health providers. I shared speaking duties with Noelle Hogan, and together we demystified leather and BDSM for the many therapists and other mental-health professionals who attended the meeting. (Some of those therapists also helped in demystifing and explaining the leather/BDSM community to their peers.)

The fact that mental health was the topic of the day fit in perfectly with the “sane” component of the community’s “Safe, Sane, Consensual” mantra. A therapist needs to be able to judge if a client’s behavior is sane or not. But if a therapist’s shame, personal prejudice, or ignorance about leather/BDSM interferes with that judgment, they may not be helping their client in the most effective way.

We talked about the leather community’s view that leathersex done right, and for the right reasons, is healthy and heightened sexuality and also heightened and healthy intimacy. Done wrong or for the wrong reasons it’s not healthy and it’s not BDSM, it’s abuse. How can a therapist tell which is which? How can their clients? How can you?

Here’s one example from the seminar. One member of the group asked about knife play and cutting—how could that be considered sane? (The same question could be asked by the uninitiated about almost any common dungeon activity.) I answered that it’s sometimes necessary to look at the motivation behind the action.

Some people are into cutting and scarification for ritual value in much the same way that other people get tattoos or piercings. The cutting, tattooing, or piercing is the ritual that the person is using to mark an event in their lives, and the body jewelry, tattoo or scar is the lasting reminder of the ritual.

In this context, what’s the difference between a nipple ring and a wedding ring? People might do body modification for healthy or unhealthy reasons, and people get married for healthy or unhealthy reasons. A little (or a lot) of investigative work will shed light on the reasons behind people’s actions, and a therapist can then make an evaluation of whether the motivations are healthy or unhealthy. (Yes, I know, I’m making it sound a lot simpler than it usually is.)

Here’s another cutting scenario that shows a completely different motivation: a teenage girl, alone in her room, takes a razor blade and slowly, deliberately, makes cuts in her arm. She watches, fascinated, as the blood trickles out of the cuts. This isn’t the first time she’s done this—it’s becoming a habit, and her parents are worried. When the therapist asks her why she does it, her unemotional reply is simply this: “Because I feel the pain, and I see the blood flow, and I know I’m alive.”

This is not BDSM. This is self-mutilation, and it’s more common than you might think. This is the desperate cry of a tortured soul in real pain. The parents are right to be worried, and the patient and therapist have a lot of work ahead of them.

What’s the difference between BDSM and abuse? Look at the motivations behind the actions, and the feelings that come from the actions. Here are some questions to ask about a situation to help clarify whether it’s healthy or unhealthy.

How do you feel while it’s happening? Whether topping or bottoming, BDSM sex will feel good; while engaging in it you may feel buoyant and exhilarated or you may feel relaxed, dreamy, and euphoric. You should feel loved and respected. Abuse will not feel good; you may feel anywhere from slightly ridiculous to somewhat uneasy to terrified, panic-stricken and frightened. You may feel used and objectified or you may feel anger and rage. Honor your feelings and what they’re telling you. If you feel a mixture of both good and bad, try to determine where the bad feelings are coming from—they’re trying to tell you something important.

How do you feel after it’s over? Warm, satisfied, giggly, contented, euphoric, glowing, cared for—in other words, happy? Has your life been enhanced? Or do you feel bad—hurt, used, angry, abandoned, sad, denigrated, disrespected? Do you feel like you’ve just been raped, punished, abused or violated? Do you want revenge? Are you feeling a mixture of good and bad feelings? Again, pay attention to what your feelings are telling you.

What feelings are your BDSM experiences reinforcing—good ones or bad ones? If your BDSM experiences enrich and enhance your life, don’t feel you need to apologize to a therapist (or anyone else) for being kinky. But if you feel you need to be punished, beaten up, or hurt—if your BDSM experiences are feeding feelings of self-hate or low self-esteem—that’s not a healthy reason to engage in BDSM. Nor is it healthy if you feel a need to go out occasionally and find a willing punching bag on whom you can vent your frustrations. In either case you are skating on the kind of thin ice where anger is in control and people get hurt as a result. That most definitely is neither safe nor sane. Run, do not walk, to your nearest GLBT-friendly and kink-friendly therapist (aren’t we lucky to live where there actually are such people?) and let them help you help yourself.

New Leather/Levi Club: Trident International Minnesota

GRAPHIC: Trident International Minnesota logo

The Twin Cities has a new leather/levi club. Trident International Minnesota is the thirteenth branch of Trident International, which was formed in 1973 at the Neptune Bar in Montreal. According to club president Scott Anderson, “We’re a new club with an old-guard attitude.” Their club motto: “Give a damn.” Trident International Minnesota currently has twelve full members and four associate members, but they’re looking to recruit more (both men and women).

The club held their first event on Sunday, April 30 and raised over $450 for the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago. B.D. Chambers of the Atons was on bootblack duty and Arden of the Regis was doing buzzcuts. Entertainment was by local rock group All The Pretty Horses. Many other fundraising events are planned with an emphasis on children with AIDS, other AIDS charities, and cancer research. For more information visit their website at or e-mail them at

International Mr. Leather Contest is May 26-29 (that’s next weekend!)

If you haven’t made your plans already, find out what kind of last-minute arrangements you can make by visiting or calling (800) 545-6753.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Sunday, May 28

Saloon Underwear Party
6-10 PM in The Saloon, 10 PM-closing in The Tank
If you’re not going to Chicago for IML, this is the place to be. A chance for the buff and the beautiful to mingle with leather studs and other tough guys. Dress code for The Tank has been modified for the evening: leather or underwear.

Friday, May 5, 2000

Queer Youth Exist: A Youth-BDSM Group

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #129, May 5, 2000)

If you’re an adult who wants to find out more about the leather/BDSM/fetish community, there are all kinds of groups and other resources available to you. But what if the law says you’re not yet an adult? You’re pretty much out of luck, because most of those resources and groups are off-limits to minors. But many young people are curious about the scene, whether society and the law like to admit it or not. Now there’s a community resource just for them—the first of its kind, right here in Minneapolis. And here’s the kicker: It was created by two high-school students as their Girl Scout Gold Award project.

Queer Youth Exist is an education and safety group for youth under the age of 21 who have an interest in BDSM, fetishism, or any queer or alternative culture. It’s not necessarily exclusively GLBT, but it meets every Wednesday from 6 to 8 PM at District 202, the local GLBT youth center. The aim of the group’s founders is to create a confidential and safe forum for anyone, any gender, any orientation, under age 21 to discuss and explore BDSM and fetishism issues safely. Other related discussion topics have included safe sex and safe dating, meeting people on-line, and even sugar daddies. The group has been meeting since last November and has been an open discussion group, although plans call for bringing in guest speakers and even renting movies to watch and discuss.

The group was created by two high-school students, Hedge (a senior) and Katza (a junior). Both are also Girl Scouts (Hedge has been a Girl Scout for 13 years), and this is their Girl Scout Gold Award project. A Gold Award is the highest honor for a Girl Scout—the equivalent of becoming an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts, although Hedge pointed out that “actually, the Gold Award is harder because there are more restrictions on the type of project.” There are proposals to be made, interviews about the proposal, and a review process with lots of paperwork. So the local Girl Scout council knows about this project and is supportive of it.

This special BDSM group for youth has evolved because other BSDM groups are for those over age 18, and most are for those over age 21. According to Katza, “This avoids legal problems like statutory rape and corruption of minors, and also means these groups don’t have to deal with angry parents and the Christian Coalition.” She goes on to point out another reason for excluding youth from these groups: “Sometimes young people can be obnoxious. People don’t necessarily want high-school students coming to their events and making Beavis and Butthead jokes. A lot of people have told me that they don’t have enough faith in the maturity of under-21s to invite them to events. We’re trying to make youth be less of a threat to the adult community—to say to the adult community that we know what we’re doing, we know what a safeword is, we know about safe-sane-consensual sex and we know how to act appropriately.”

Both Hedge and Katza see a great deal of interest in BDSM and fetish culture among fellow young people. According to Katza, “They’re attracted to the young goth BDSM culture—to the shiny clothes, attractive people, great music and club nights. It’s a fun culture and people want to be part of it even if they don’t practice BDSM. They want to separate themselves from the Abercrombie & Fitch jock crowd—they want to be with older people who are in their culture scene.”

But excluding youth from the BDSM scene leaves young people out on their own, which means they may explore BDSM in ways that are dangerous both emotionally and physically. They pretend they’re older than they are and they pretend to know more than they really do. Katza again: “Most kids get into bars with a fake ID. You may come from a conservative home and go to a high school where there’s no sexuality or really lame sexuality. And all of a sudden you’re in a room with great music, beautiful people, corsets and spikes, and you get overloaded.

“And people assume you’re one of them, and you think, ‘Well, I’m gonna be one of them—I’m gonna pack as much into it as I can, I’m going to drink a lot and smoke a lot and hit on every cute girl in a corset I see.’ And if somebody hits on them and asks them their age, a lot of them won’t be honest and say they’re underage, they’ll lie, and that can lead to all kinds of dangerous situations. None of that is appropriate behavior for any of us. The hope is that a group like Queer Youth Exist will make the scene more accessible and offer a saner, more sensibly-paced introduction.” In Hedge’s opinion, “I think it’s kind of sick that our culture is willing to let people sit in ignorance about anything—if people are going to do it anyway, they might as well do it safely.”

Queer Youth Exist meetings tend to focus less on physical sexuality and more on BDSM as being an extension of the psyche, trying to balance itself and find an equilibrium. This balancing can be especially important for young people going through turbulent times. Katza: “Teens who are bullies often feel a need to submit, and they can’t submit to their peers because it would be breaking their role. Often they’re the ones who go to unsafe adults—they don’t think about whether it’s safe or not, they simply know that this person is going to dominate them. Other young people, who are very often ‘good kids’ or who are very submissive and don’t have a lot of power, may want a chance to dominate. BDSM power play, if it’s discussed and it’s safe, can be a very efficient way to get back in balance mentally.” “And,” says Hedge, “it’s less expensive than a psychologist.” (Hedge goes on to stress that Queer Youth Exist is a support group, not a therapy group; if necessary, Queer Youth Exist and District 202 will refer people to a qualified and supportive psychologist.)

Youth is a time of raging hormones which can make everything seem connected to sex in one way or another. But Queer Youth Exist encourages youth interested in BDSM to experiment with power play before physical play. According to Katza, “Something as simple as having a conversation in master/sub format can be a safe way to get comfortable with BDSM concepts and roles, rather than just going straight to the sex. I think a lot of teens want to get straight to the sex because it’s such a taboo issue that they don’t want to talk about it, they just want to do it and keep quiet about it. But I think we put the emphasis on psychological, and then you move it into sexual as your personal desires, needs, and safety suggest.”

What about BDSM relationships between a minor and an adult? For much of society, this is a bombshell question. But according to Katza, “Most of the outright queer kids I know are very intelligent, very individually-assertive people. To be able to come out and say that they’re queer, they’ve had to put a lot of thought into it. They’re well-developed mentally—they’re curious, open-minded people, and often they’re attracted to people whose minds are developed. Often they’re attracted to adults—not necessarily middle-aged or the age of their parents, but more likely between the ages of 18 and 26.” Hedge points out that this is a daunting issue even for vanilla GLBT kids, “but then you throw BDSM into the picture and people run screaming.”

There are legal and emotional considerations to deal with here. Young people need to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy ways of relating to someone older, but there’s a difference between age and maturity that both Hedge and Katza feel the law doesn’t recognize. “We try to say, in our society, when somebody turns 18 they’re mature, and before that they’re not.” Katza: “My mother told me I couldn’t be gay until I was 21. And it’s like, so, when I’m 21, I’m going to awaken and say ‘At last—now I’m mature enough to sleep with girls!’ If a young person is in a relationship that can’t be talked about, it’s less safe. If you can talk openly about a relationship with an older person without fear of getting them arrested, you’re going to be a lot safer in the relationship.”

Romantic or BDSM-play relationships aside, kids interested in the BDSM community look to adult members of that community for support and mentorship, and Queer Youth Exist has benefited from assistance and encouragement from members of adult BDSM groups both locally and from around the country. A frequent reaction from adults who hear about this group is, “Why wasn’t this around when I was their age?” Even twenty-five-year-olds have written Hedge and Katza and said they wished they could be in the group because they need the information. Says Hedge, “It’s great to know we have this much support from the community, that we’re not delusional and just making up the need for this, and I hope we start a domino effect by inspiring other groups like this in other places.”

Mark Your Calendar and Make Your Reservations

Knights of Leather Tournament 12 Run. May 19-21.

International Mr. Leather Contest, Chicago. May 26-29 (Memorial Day Weekend). FFI: or (800) 545-6753.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, May 6

Atons Road Trip/Bar Night: Des Moines
At the Blazing Saddle Barr
Travel to Des Moines with the Atons; while you’re there you’ll also meet members of the Cornhaulers leather club of Des Moines and LEO (Leather Engineers of Omaha). FFI: